In my city many people do not celebrate Christmas. I live in a primarily Muslim community, so it’s not exactly the biggest holiday in town. However, a lot of people celebrate New Years and many traditions associated with Christmas in America are associated with New Years in Albania. For example, many people will buy New Years trees (aka Christmas trees) and there are some small light displays around town. The students in my Outdoor Ambassadors youth group wanted to do something fun to celebrate the holidays, so we decided to make holiday cards to hand out at our community nursing home. Outdoor Ambassadors did a similar activity at the nursing home last year for Valentines Day, so we wanted to do something on a bigger scale to celebrate the holidays.
Each group member made a New Years card to hand out at the center during one of our meetings. We discussed holiday traditions in America and in Albania. For those who celebrate Christmas, they usually have a big dinner with family on Christmas day. Relatives will come throughout the day to visit and enjoy some of the cakes and candies that the host made. They will typically sit and have a Turkish coffee in the home or another drink throughout the day. They do not have a tradition of exchanging gifts with friends or with adults; usually gifts are only given to younger children in the form of toys and dolls. They celebrate New Years Ever in a similar manner, normally spending the first portion of the evening with their close family having a big meal. Turkey is a popular dish on NYE and turkeys cost around eighty US dollars. Once the clock strikes midnight, the younger generation goes out to clubs and parties. They will usually dance until the sun comes up. One of my students is actually having a party at her family’s restaurant for all the students at the high school.
After they shared a bit about their Christmas traditions I explained the tradition in my family. On Christmas Eve, I go over to my grandma’s house to have a big dinner with the rest of my cousins, aunts, and uncles. We eat turkey, ham, and a lot of other delicious foods. My grandma is a wonderful cook and I will definitely miss all the wonderful dishes she makes every year for the holidays. After dinner, we go to mass at a church near her home. The children in the neighborhood sing Christmas songs and sometimes perform a short play before the actual mass. I used to be in all the church Christmas plays when I was a little girl. I always loved being the center of attention and caroling my heart out. After church, my cousins and I would always do “Secret Santa” gifts. Sometimes Santa Clause would even show up at our door! It was always a very special time – definitely my favorite holiday with my family. I also explained how many people in America put up holiday lights and decorations outside their homes. Sometimes on the way home from Christmas dinner my dad would drive me and my brother to the City and County building because Denver always lit in up for the season. It was great sharing stories with my students and other community members about some of my holiday traditions. It was also wonderful to hear more about how they celebrate too.
Once all the cards were made, we headed out to the nursing home a few days later. The students sat with the residents and listened to their stories. They gave out the cards (and lots of hugs and kisses too). It was really obvious that the residents the students spoke with were ecstatic to have company. One man told the students his life story and several of them were very emotional and cried during his story. Seeing the condition of many of the residents pushed the students in action. They want to being doing more activities at the home and would like to begin visiting the people there on a more regular basis. I am so pleased that the students are taking initiative and wanting to do more volunteer work for their community. The group has come such a long way since it started in February 2014. Outdoor Ambassadors students are acting as leaders in the community and the group is practically student run. I’m so proud of them for spreading happy holiday cheer and sharing a bit of their youth with some other members of our community.
One student wrote this to explain her experience at the activity,
“Can you go back to childhood? If yes than you can remember your grandparents. They were there for you, to take care, to sing a lullaby or to do anything else to make you happy. Can you remember this? Now remember each time you spent with them. Is this enough? Now that Christmas and New Year are coming everyone want to be with their family. Have you ever thought New Year in elderly house? If yes than you thought to do something beautiful for them. That’s what OA Kavaje though. Today we went to elderly’s house to wish them a Happy New Year! They were so happy. Some of them cried when they saw us. We gave them postcards and they kept them as a treasure. We were happy, sad, and proud at the same time. Happy for the fact we were with them. Sad because they were lonely and proud to be part of OA. They were happy only because we were there to hug and listen to them. It’s so easy to make them happy, only if you want. All I wanted to say is that you can make them happy only by being there for them.”